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Blowing edge inlays and about the flutes I use and play

I have found that inlays do very little to the texture of the sound. I’ve broken inlays and the flutes played no differently. I’ve played on flutes with the inlay totally knocked out. The sound was a little bit fuzzier; that’s all.

I have flutes made by Yamaguchi Shugetsu (Nara), the Kôno family (the deceased father and both sons), Ichijô (Osaka?), Okamoto Chikudo (Okayama?). David Brown (Aus.), and some others I don’t know who made them. My favourite no.1 most used 1.8 flute is one that Tom Deaver made me. My 2.7 (G) is totally without ji, and my 3.1 shaku length flute is virtually a true ‘ji-nashi’ flute, with only small dabs of ji in three places. Its ‘ro’ is F. It is very responsive and easy to play considering its length. Being ji-nashi, it is very light in weight too. It was made by a fellow named Yamaguchi Shugetsu, who lives in Nara.

My longest flute is a 3.6, totally ji-nashi, made by my dear friend, Kurita-san. It is a joy to play. It is the most demanding flute to play. It is really really hard to play. But it is wonderful, in part because with effort it is in tune and can produce all the notes and sounds needed to play my favourite honkyoku. As implied by it’s length, it is exactly one octave below a standard 1.8 shakuhachi, a very low D.

I have four others by Yamaguchi, a 1.1 (F), a 1.3 (G), a 1.9 (D#), and a 2.7 (G). All play very well. I have yet to play a really long flute (over 2.6) that I thought was better than the ones I’ve seen of Yamaguchi. I have played a fair few by Miura Ryuho, which I have seen in the USA, and more recently those of my students who have purchased them while studying in Japan. I think that they are exceptional flutes. I recently acquired a new 1.8 by Tom Deaver that I am thrilled about. It will replace my primary 1.8, which was also by Tom Deaver. It has many of the qualities of the Miura flutes I’ve played on, and then some. It’s price was also much less. I also recently bought a 2.2 (A#) by Tom Deaver. One of the many joys of being a professionaly shakuhachi player is not really having to have an excuse to buy another shakuhachi, even one with as obscure length as a 2.2!

My new ‘fat’ Deaver flute projects well, which is important when performing for anything other than the smallest audiences, especially with other musicians. Plus it is as mellow as any flute I’ve played. I also have 1.8, 2.1 and 2.4 Gyokusui flutes (made for me by the deceased Gyokusui elder in 1972-1973) which have that mellow quality. These flutes are wonderful for honkyoku.

I have flutes made by Gyokusui (son) and a 2.0 by Gyokuzan (younger son of Gyokusui), and a 1.7 by Okamoto Chikugai. I like all of these flutes. Finally, I use ones made by Australian maker David Brown. The best is to try lots of flutes by many makers, if only to appreciate your own flute all the better. More likely, you might find a few flutes that are not better or lesser than your flute, just different. Trying to compare some flutes is like comparing kaki with nashi…

Ji Nashi Flute

Ji nashi flutes

There are many differences between ji-nashi flutes and flutes made with ji. But then, there are also an infinite number of differences between all of the flutes that are made with ji.

In other words, it’s hard to generalise. Many people (including me) think that excellent ji-nashi flutes are very desirable. But this might be a personal preference thing, rather than something based upon concrete and consistent observations. Among the subjective words I might use to describe the sounds a good ji nashi flute makes are ‘mellow’, ‘responsive’, ‘rich’, ‘smooth’, ‘traditional’, ‘complex’, etc. Note that none of these words really describe the actual physical sound, but we all think we know what they mean. At least we know what they mean to us!

This may be one of those things that if you can’t tell the difference by yourself, when playing on the two types of flutes or listening them being played, then there is no point really in hearing someone else’s opinion on the subject.

Generalising about pitch or intonation might also be counterproductive. The quality of intonation varies between all flutes, whether they have ji in them or not. One might observe floating around more ji-nashi flutes w/bad intonation than flutes w/filler. This doesn’t mean that therefore ji-nashi flutes in general have worse intonation than flutes with ji.

This is because it is easier to make a bamboo flute w/out ji than w/ji. Making excellent shakuhachi, with or without ji, is of course another matter.

Consequently there are many flutes w/out ji that have bad intonation. These flutes are frequently, though not always, made by people who do not have much training, experience or skill. So perhaps there are more ji-nashi flutes with questionable intonation because more of this type of flute are made by people without the necessary skills and experience as makers, rather anything innately to do with using or not using ji.

I am blessed with a number of ji-nashi or nearly ji-nashi flutes with good intonation and that can also produce the second and even third octaves easily. Also, I’ve seen many more ji nashi flutes in others’ possession that play much better than my own. Maybe I’m not as blessed as others….

The flute I play the most on right now is one made with ji, though maybe the filler has been kept to a minimum. I don’t really know.